Here in Olympia we are coming out of a week of Snowpocalypse. If you're in my region, you know what I'm talking about! Our region is ill-equipped to deal with a big snow storm, so schools and many businesses were shut down last week. Lots of folks lost power and were snowed in. For our family, it was a stay-cation of sorts. No school, no work, no internet. So, we had lots of family time. We played games, went sledding, walked in the snow, read books, and slept in. After a week of diminished work and school activities, we all felt quite rejuvenated. Despite the obvious discomforts caused by this storm, the week at home was, in many ways, a very pleasurable experience.
Kama - Enjoyment or Pleasure
The word pleasure or kama, in Sanskrit is a concept I am teaching in my yoga classes this week. According to the Vedic teachings, pleasure or enjoyment is one of the 4 Aims of Life. Kama refers to the pleasure of the senses. It is both an aesthetic enjoyment and also an enjoyment of emotional connection and affection. In Vedic teachings, taking time for enjoyment is considered a responsibility of householders. For me last week, this was taking in the simple pleasure of enjoying the rare (in the Pacific Northwest) winter wonderland with my family. This pleasure involved all my senses. I enjoyed the brightness of the snow, and the clear skies with stars at night, crackling of snow and ice under my feet, and the touch of my warmest, puffiest coat and thickest mittens. Because it was more difficult to prepare food, the simplest meals were more satisfying.
Of course we experienced the discomforts that come with a big storm, like no power which in our neighborhood also means no water! Luckily we were prepared and were able to ride it out. But, the point I want to make is what could have been a negative experience turned into a very positive experience because we chose to make it that way. It was in many ways, all about mindset. Having an attitude of seeking enjoyment and positivity is a skill and a practice that involves the mind and the body.
Counter-acting our Built-in Negativity Bias
I am reminded by the teachings of Dr. Rick Hanson. Dr. Rick Hanson is a psychologist who studies and writes about the inner skills of personal well-being. Scientists believe that humans have a built in "negativity bias." We are hard-wired to look out for negative experiences and to prevent them if possible. This is an evolutionary trait that has in Rick's words made us more apt to dodge sticks than to chase down carrots. Rick says we are "velcro for negativity" and like "teflon for positivity." By this, he means that we are going to be on the look out for anything negative and any negative experience will "stick to our ribs" more than a "positive experience." In the case of the snowstorms, we are wired to be more preoccupied with the hazards and discomforts of a storm than the silver lining of pleasurable time with family and natural beauty.
Tilting toward the Positive
A big part of my job as a yoga and wellness teacher is to help people's minds and bodies become more resilient by guiding folks realign to what is already good, and build on that. One of my favorite practices that I am teaching this week is Taking in the Good. This is a practice I learned from Dr. Rick Hanson. It is the simple practice of noticing, appreciating and even basking in what is positive, enjoyable and pleasurable in one's life. This basking or soaking in the good involved all of the senses. An example is being outside in the snow or anywhere where you realize you are experiencing something pleasant, and taking the time enjoy the all of the accompanying sights, sounds, feelings, smells and even flavors. By doing so, we begin to slant our mind-body toward more positivity. We can even begin to change our brain! This is neuroplasticity. If we always tilt toward the negative, we become more prone to a negative mindset. Each time, we incline our mind-body toward the positive and pause and appreciate the positive, we build neuro-pathways that incline our lives toward resilience and positivity.
Soaking in the good practice
This is a practice you can do anytime and anywhere. When you become aware that whatever you are experiencing has a pleasant quality, bring your awareness to that experience. If it's early morning and you just poured yourself a cup of hot tea. Take a moment and enjoy the warmth of the mug on your skin. Breathe in the aroma of the tea. Pause, soften and breathe. Let your body relax. Exhale again. Even before you take your first sip, anticipate the pleasure of the warmth and taste of the tea in your mouth. Then, when you take your first sip, linger with the flavors and sensation. Don't rush on to the next task of the morning. Soak in the good for just a few more moments. It's that simple. Fill up your cup with what's good and build on that for the rest of the day.
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach yoga instructor.